In the white heat of youth, several years ago, my folly sometimes took me to the parties of the Iranian Embassy where I always had a dandy time though now, needless to say, I know those parties were fearfully decadent.
Indeed, since the capital seems unable to forget Ardeshir Zahedi, the ambassador who served decadence along with vintage wines, and since it is no longer fashionable to say anything nice about him, everybody says his parties were indistinguishable from those of Nero.
This has inspired me with two feelings:
Fury, that I must have missed the back room or something, and, second, that I owe it to myself to think back over that decadence and learn useful lessons for the future.
What, I ask, were the moments of greatest decadence in the numerous parties I went to, concealing from readers their decadent nature?
Perhaps the night I introduced my daughter to Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.)?
No -- wait a minute -- possibly the conversation I had with the late David K. Bruce? Haw, that was juicy. Or the time Frank Ikard, emperor of oil, identified two people for me? Or the time the Chinese delegation at dinner there took gobs of caviar when it was served, following the lead of their hosts, and sent it uneaten on their plates to the kitchen?
The Chinese wasting the caviar may be the most decadent thing I ever saw in my whole life, but this may have been ignorance, not decadence, on their part.
Ah, now I have it. The most decadent party must have been the one the ambassador gave for the Kennedy Foundation. There was even more food than usual and Barbara Streisand too, and lots of Kennedys. I guess it is always decadent to salvage the lives of kids terribly disabled, which is what the Kennedy Foundation was up to, and Zahedi knowingly let himself be used for that decadent purpose.
There where also some parties for black organizations, to help them raise money, but since I was not invited, I cannot say the extent of their decadence, though I assume it was pretty stupendous.
One night I saw Zahedi in velvet shoes. My God.
"My young daughter made them for me myself," he said.
Even so. A guy with velvet shoes. I see now that this should have been sufficient warnings to me of the decadence of the place, but I was too dumb to learn.
I remember a dinner at which a plain woman, well connected in this town, was startled when the decadent ambassador swooped down, gave her a magnanimous kiss and went on to kiss every blessed female in the room.
Than which there are no greater depths. At the time I was surprised the women of Washington did not stalk out, especially the ones over 40, at this depraved behavior.
Then there was the dancing. The ambassador once he got going used to take his jacket off and sweat like a mule.
There were some evenings -- though I blush to recall them -- when the entire party retired after supper to loll about on cushions on the floor, under the dome of the so-called Persian Room. The lights were turned low, eerie music floated from Persian instruments played by young Iranians from New York (New York, note that -- Persian musicians from New York, it's enough to make your skin creep when you think of it in the light of day) and the mirror mosaics of the dome caught the soft light and glimmered like the last best nebula astronomers will ever discover.
And on the floor -- shame -- were person of both sexes. Quiet seductive talk in the near-darkness. Champagne.
Of course I missed much of the evil since I drank orange juice, as most others did, too.
I never confessed this to anybody at the time, but I really was torn on the Persian Room evenings between my pleasure in this voluptuous mirrored room and my experienced knowledge that I would haul at least three distressed maidens (all right, matrons, if you want to be picky) who had got down on the cushions and needed a crane to get them on their feet again.
Wine ran like geysers. What a pity nobody got drunk. What a pity so many failed to drink anything but water.
And the lavish gifts. Zahedi used to send people cavair at their homes. Of course anybody was free to decline it (I did) and sent it back. Sometimes he sent big bottles of champagne. O heights, O depths, of sin. I cannot, myself, think of anything more decadent than champagne, though I never accepted any, but I am coming to one of my most shameless crimes:
When I met the ambassador a few hours before he left Washington, he talked about walking in the Zagros Mountains in the snow, and the shrines of Qom, shameless stuff like that, and when I left he picked a book up off the table and said he wanted me to take it to remember him by.
I -- dear God, but truth is truth -- took it.
It's a picture book of Iran and I've spent some good hours with it. There was a time, after all, when Iran meant the turquoise domes of Isfahan and the gold and green and white pavilions with damask roses. Barbarism in those centuries at least was beautiful on the surface instead of foul all the way through.
Now I have recounted some of the startling shame I observed at that embassy over several years. And yet one of the worst crimes is prudery, pretendng to be shocked when you're not. It's almost as bad as using people six ways for Sunday then cutting them dead if they prove to be incovenient later.
And from my career as boy reporter living it up at the Persian Embassy I did, indeed, learn one sobering lesson:
All that decadence and your block-headed stupid reporter managed to miss it.
It's bad enough to be around it. But to miss your one big golden shot at it. It's enough to make any guy repent.